More than 50 influential Christian leaders have warned that plans for Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) threaten democracy and would be a “disaster” for the church.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the group raises concerns that the Government’s response to terrorism “risks going seriously off-track”.
They also warn that the stated goal “to tackle ‘extremism in all its forms’ casts the net so wide that almost anyone could fall into it”.
The initiative was backed by The Christian Institute’s Director Colin Hart, the principal of Oak Hill College Revd Dr Mike Ovey, the Senior Minister of Christchurch Durham Revd Tony Jones and CEO of Christian Concern Andrea Minichiello Williams.
The letter was signed by a further 52 leaders, encompassing Anglican vicars and the leaders of Elim Pentecostal and Evangelical Congregational churches.
The Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans last year to introduce EDOs, which are to be included in a forthcoming counter-extremism Bill.
The letter warns that EDOs “look set to rely on a test of extremism that threatens the very democracy they are meant to protect”.
Today Christians can be labelled ‘extremists’ by those who disagree with Christianity. For some such people, EDOs will be a gift. For the Church, they will be a disaster.Letter toThe Daily Telegraph
The letter continues: “Evangelicals like William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and Josephine Butler, though revered now, faced many malicious accusations during their lifetimes.
“Today Christians can be labelled ‘extremists’ by those who disagree with Christianity. For some such people, EDOs will be a gift. For the Church, they will be a disaster.”
The Government has recently signalled that there are now “no plans” to introduce a ‘watchlist’ for faith leaders, which had been included in a leaked draft of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy.
Under the proposals, pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders would have been subjected to Government training and security checks and would have had to enrol in a “national register of faith leaders”.
It would have affected all Christian ministers and other religious leaders who wished to work with the public sector.
A campaign supported by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society has been launched to oppose EDOs.
The website defendfreespeech.org.uk gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to contact their MP about the proposals.